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Money & Policy

How to Make Your Car Last 200,000 Miles

By following these maintenance tips, your car can hum along for years


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Helping Your Car Go the Distance

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Remember the days when you'd cheer if your car made it past 100,000 miles? Now, 100,000 miles is just a pit stop along the way in the lifetime of your car.

"During a certain era, automakers made vehicles that only lasted three years or so. But cars today can last over 200,000 miles if you maintain them to the letter of the law," says Jody Devere, CEO of AskPatty.com, a car site aimed at women.

Pickups and SUVs on average last longer, she says. "When you think about what those vehicles are to be used for, it makes sense — they can carry more weight and are built for rougher driving conditions," notes Devere. But, she adds, all cars are now built to last if you take care of them.

Follow these six tips, and you can easily prolong the life of your car.

(This article appeared previously on Grandparents.com)

1. Cut Back on Short Trips

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If you're someone who doesn't think twice about jumping in the car for a few quick errands, you might want to start reconsidering. When you go short distances, you do a lot of accelerating and braking.

"That's the kiss of death — it wears on the brakes," says Robert Sinclair, Jr., of the American Automobile Association (AAA) Northeast. "Every time you step on the gas, the twisting force of the engine puts stress on the rest of the car, so the more you accelerate and brake, the more stress it's putting on the car."

Sometimes that can't be helped. If you live in a city, for example, it's much harder on your car than living outside an urban area. But in general, says Sinclair, you want to try to minimize short trips.

He also points out that with short trips, the engine may not get up to full operating temperature of 180 to 220 degrees. "With short trips the exhaust is not getting as hot as it should," he says. "One of the byproducts of exhaust is water vapor, and if the car isn't warm enough, the water vapor does not get expelled from system and can just lay there and can cause rust."

2. Change the Oil Frequently

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It's a fact: Oil keeps your car's engine humming along. "Oil helps to cool the engine and keeps the internal friction components of the engine lubricated. It also helps clean the engine," says Sinclair. "Your car would love you to change the oil every 3,000 miles, but that's excessive."

Change it based on your manufacturer's manual. "If you live in a dusty environment or carry heavy loads on a regular basis, you need to change it more often," Sinclair points out.

As for what kind of oil to give your car, there is the choice between traditional oil and synthetic oil. Generally synthetic oil helps cars last longer, says Sinclair. "In a cold climate, synthetic oil has the ability to flow through the engine. It's also not going to break down with heat as quickly as conventional oil."

And if you have an older car, Devere points out that you can talk to your mechanic about special oil made for older vehicles to help them run better.

3. Drive the Speed Limit

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"Don't confuse speed with acceleration," says Sinclair. With acceleration, you're putting your foot on and off the gas, which we know isn't great for the car. Speed refers to how quickly you drive, typically on the highway.

The ideal highway speed for fuel economy varies from vehicle to vehicle, but right around 55 miles per hour is where you want to drive in terms of stretching your gas tank further and taking care of your car.

"Driving faster burns more gasoline, the engine get hotter and the cooling system has to work harder," says Sinclair. "If you drone along at 50 mile an hour or so, it's better for the car."

4. Watch the Fluids

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Not only does your car need oil to run smoothly, it also needs a range of other fluids such as coolant and brake fluid. "Coolant is also known as antifreeze," says Sinclair. "It is very important that it be changed on a regular basis."

He points out that antifreeze has rust inhibitors which protect the car. "If you don't change it, rust can build up and block passages, and lead to the engine overheating," says Sinclair.

It's a good idea to use your car manual as a guide and regularly check on fluid levels to make sure they are where they should be.

5. Use the Right Gas

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You may think nothing of going to the pump and using the cheapest grade of gas, no matter what your manual says. But that could be a costly mistake.

"Just about every car these days will run on regular gas," Sinclair says. "But if you use regular when you're not supposed to, the acceleration will suffer." Perhaps more important, he says, never run the tank down to near empty.

"Every petroleum product has sediment in it, which can settle in the tank. If you run your tank down to empty, the engine will pick up the sediment, which isn't good for the vehicle," notes Sinclair.

If you think all gas is the same, it's not. "There are stations in your town that have better gas — there are huge differences in the product," says Devere. To find the gas stations near you with the best quality gas, she recommends checking out TopTierGas.com. "Costco sells top tier gas, and it's cheaper than other places," she adds.

6. Wash the Exterior Properly

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During the winter, a lot of people get salt on their cars, which can rust the undercarriage, says Devere. “You can have a spray put on to protect it from rust,” she says. As for having the outside of your car look good, make sure you’re using the right products to protect the exterior.

“You cannot use dish soap,” Devere cautions. “It will remove the protective coating on your vehicle.” Instead, use microfiber cloths so you don't scratch the car, and use products that are specially made for car care.

“You should wax and polish the exterior every six months,” she says. “And the interior can take a lot of wear and tear, too, so use products made for leather seats.”

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